Story: Elisa Johnson

Following her election as the first female bishop in PCG History, Bishop Elisa Johnson graciously made time for a brief interview, in which she shares her personal story and also her vision for the Yellowstone District.

Impact Eternity / Stories

March 4, 2024


Calling & Purpose

Story: Elisa Johnson

(Editor's Note: Following her election as the first female bishop in PCG History, Bishop Johnson graciously made time for a brief interview with our production team for the Pentecostal Messenger. Below we have provided a transcript of that interview.)

To start, how would you describe your upbringing?

I was raised in a pastor’s home in Montana. My parents have been with the Pentecostal Church of God for 50 years, so I was raised in the Movement. They were just amazing people. They’ve done a lot of therapeutic foster care through the years, so we had a lot of people in and out of our house. And unfortunately, some of that created trauma in various ways, but God gave them grace and wisdom to help lead through it.

I had some physical issues and some things took place that really shaped my need for Jesus at a very young age. I desired to be used by Him, and I felt the call to ministry when I was about 11, right after I had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In that season, the Lord really helped me heal from the inside out, and I knew I was called to help other broken people find that same hope and healing. Never though did I ever consider the possibility of becoming a pastor, much less a district bishop.

As you got older, how did you continue to cultivate the call of God on your life?

In junior high and high school, I just maintained a drive and hunger for the Lord, and I kept falling in love with Him and experiencing Him in really deep ways personally. I determined that I wasn’t going to settle for less than what He wanted. You know, that didn’t come without some struggles socially, but God was faithful.

My parents were also really intentional about incorporating us as a family into ministry. It wasn’t their ministry; it was our ministry. I’ve always been really thankful for that because it was such an awesome training ground, where I was able to be very hands on. The leadership my parents modeled always involved dedicated prayer and life transformation. Ministry for me became a process of actually digging into the depths of people’s wounds and seeking God for healing and breakthrough. Those experiences shaped me, and that’s certainly the kind of ministry style I try to operate in even now

At the 2019 General Assembly, it was determined that women could serve in any leadership role within the PCG. In September 2023, you were elected to serve as the PCG’s first ever female district bishop. How exactly did that come about for you in the Yellowstone district?

Growing up, I always felt empowered in ministry, and my voice was very validated in our Church and district. Most of the ministers that are currently in the district have known me most of my life, watched the hand of God on me, encouraged me along the way, and even nurtured the calling on my life.

Of course, my dad was serving as district bishop, and when he had begun to feel a release from service, some of the pillars of leadership in our district exhorted me and encouraged me, saying that they felt like this was the direction the district should take. Certainly there was some discussion and a lot of prayer before the vote, but our district has always been very forward-thinking, encouraging, and empowering toward women in leadership. As the planning and preparations were taking place, and even now as I continue to have many other roles and responsibilities, I have just continued to believe: If this is what God wants, then I know He will equip me; and I am willing.

Again, there’s just been very strong encouragement and excitement about this decision for our district and the vision that we have moving forward.

There has been a tremendous legacy of leadership in your family and district. Who have been some influential figures in your life?

Bonnie Wayne served in a few different roles in women’s ministry in our district. She was instrumental in planning the alabaster program and was excited about women serving in ministry. And then Johnny Myles, who was a district superintendent’s wife. Both of those ladies were grandmother figures to me. And then my mom as well, who has always been a prayer warrior and modeled ministry through trauma counseling because of her own testimony and story. I’ve always had a legacy of women who were encouraged and empowered to fulfill their callings.

What are some of the goals or initiatives that you would like to see fulfilled under your leadership?

Well, every district has established missional goals for a decade of harvest. We certainly plan to work toward fulfilling those. Personally, I have a really big desire to see our churches raise up young leaders and to plant churches. The Yellowstone district has a really beautiful relationship with Native American Ministries, and I would love to see churches planted on more reservations throughout the Dakotas and Montana. There is a vast need... As I left General Assembly this last year, the Lord spoke to me, saying that we have excelled in loving and nurturing and healing, but now it’s time to raise up warriors. And so that’s what we’re aiming for right now.

You are not only serving as district bishop, but you have faithfully served as a PCG Native American Ministries pastor in Montana for several years. Please share more about how the Lord brought you into service on the reservation.

Our district has had a great relationship with the native churches for many years. They’ve been a part of our camps, and through the years, I really fell in love with the native kids, especially the Northern Cheyenne. I just felt a deep heart connection and have known prophetically that God has something very special for this nation and this people. I firmly believe that a great sweeping revival is going to take our nation and that it is going to start with native peoples.

When I was young, I felt called to the nations. But at the same time, I started becoming a little frustrated with the Lord because He never told me what nation to go to. So I started making my own plans around what I thought God wanted, and I had all these ideas but never felt completely settled on any of them. Eventually, after I had spent time in Joplin and served at Christpoint, I determined that it was time to prepare myself to go on the mission field. I didn’t know what that looked like, but I thought somehow I needed to get my feet wet cross-culturally and continue my ministry training in some way.

After a series of events and in spite of the plans I had made in my own heart, the Lord made it plain that I was called to Lame Deer. I probably wasn’t as enthusiastic about the call as God would have liked, but it was nonetheless confirmed by a prophetic word I received from my mother. Later, when I made my first drive over to be in service there and to make the announcement that I was coming, the Lord finally said, “I haven’t given you a nation because I’ve called you to the First Nations.” And He said, “You are going to raise up warriors, you’re going to call out the Paul’s from the Saul’s, and you’re going to train them how to fight... Just love the people. Don’t try to fix them, just love them and let Me do it.” And that’s been my anthem.

I have seen God work miracles. And of course, coming here as a single woman, there have been several challenges, but God has been faithful. Within the first few months, knew that this was home. For the first time in all of my ministry life, I wasn’t wondering what was next because there was a complete fulfillment of where God had called me to be. And it’s been that way for the last eight and a half years.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with the native families while serving as their pastor?

It has been a struggle at times. I mean, you have to earn your street cred, so to speak. It has really stretched me, especially in my awareness of how real the racism issues are in our nation and in my understanding of the reality of the history of our nation. I say this often: I am not just representing Jesus. I’m actually re-presenting Jesus because so much abuse has taken place in the name of Jesus. You know, for example, there has been the unearthing of mass graves of thousands of children at Mission schools, all in the name of Jesus. So how do I approach issues like that with love?

Again, I’ve felt that my role is to re-present the real Jesus—the Jesus of love, the Jesus that suffered once so they don’t have to suffer anymore. One of the things the Lord told me early on was that I shouldn’t make any changes in the church for the first five years. My goal was just simply to love them. I really do believe that we are able to love people into freedom, and that has been a huge part of why God brought me here. The vision and mission of the Church for me, and specifically the ministry here on the reservation, is just to demonstrate what the tangible love of Jesus really looks like. And honestly, one of the most practical and fruitful ways I’ve been able to live this out has been through serving as a foster parent. It is such a huge, hands-on, in-your-face need for people to just take care of babies. And if I can’t do that, then I don’t feel that I have a right to fill the pulpit.

Even as a single woman, you do a wonderful job of balancing leadership and motherhood. Can you share any more about your parenting journey?

Being a mother is both one of the greatest joys and hardest aspects about ministry and just life in general. Certainly, as a woman, I’ve felt that innate desire to be a mom, but I never married and then about seven years ago I found out I would never be able to have my own children. I had to endure a process of grieving and giving that to the Lord, having no idea that God had better things in store. Now, I can’t imagine loving any biological child more than I love my babies.

The moment I met my oldest I knew she was mine. The Lord just orchestrated her coming, and I now have permanent guardianship of her... The entire process of fostering, especially within the native community, has been a trust journey, and it’s revealed to me more about God’s character. I think any kind of parenting does. Since I began fostering, I have now had over 20 kids come into my home. Not all of them are still here, but I do currently have five

As tremendous as it is to have been elected as district bishop, your highest calling is to love your family, raise up your children, and share the Gospel. Would you agree? In a brief comment, could you try to summarize your philosophy of ministry?

I believe our greatest mission isn’t the office we hold in any particular situation; our greatest mission is ultimately to lead the people around us closer to Jesus.

Share Your Experience

Want to ask a question, tell a story, or share what you've learned? Let us know!

Connect with our Team

Other Resources